Australian director Baz Luhrmann transplants the familiar story to modern-day Verona Beach, FL, but it's no WEST SIDE STORY. He keeps the original language intact, and the result is nothing if not audacious: Thugs scream in blank verse and duels are

fought with blazing handguns, Shakespeare's words dribble from the mouths of smarmy TV gossip commentators and bored messenger-service dispatchers. The movie opens with a fatuous anchorwoman reciting the prologue against a hackneyed illustration of a broken wedding ring. The Prince of Verona

becomes Captain Prince (Vondie Curtis Hall) of the Verona Beach Police, who's mightily pissed off at the chaos on his streets. Mercutio (Harold Perrineau) is a trigger-happy drag queen, Tybalt (John Leguizamo) is a macho hothead, and the Montagues and Capulets are warring crime families in a

decaying city awash in Sacred Hearts, weeping angels and candy-colored cars. The coarseness of Luhrmann's sensibility is most apparent in the early scenes: Accelerated motion, swish pans and grotesque close-ups fly thick and fast, to no particular effect. His cheerful vulgarity -- evident in the

garish production design, baroque compositions and flashy cutting -- is a constant, but it's actually an asset. As the doomed lovers, DiCaprio and Danes -- both luminous, limpid-eyed beauties -- are allowed to deliver delicate, unpretentious performances, and their love becomes a modest,

frighteningly fragile oasis amidst a tawdry saturnalia of noise and glitter. Lots of people will hate it -- just as they hated Richard Loncraine's fascist RICHARD III -- but it's a genuinely fresh take on an oft-told tale.